Charles was once consulted about seven candlewood trees on a plot in Nature’s Valley where the owner was about to build an eco-home, but in the modern style of using “maximum footprint” by building over the largest possible portion of the stand, presumably for maximum ease of indoor living and for minimum garden maintenance, especially while away most of the year. RTC managed to save two of the trees, but in this case the substratum was too unstable to save the rest.

As it turned out, many more trees were planted in the unbuilt space as an investment for the future, and as the owner rightly pointed out, it could also be argued that that trees placed in the way of “progress” in urban areas are less of a shame to destroy than habitat eliminated by logging and farming.

“Confining humans into smaller dwelling places seems to be logical, leaving more habitat untouched and the human footprint generally smaller,” comments Charles.

As mentioned elsewhere on this website, coastal towns have popularised the idea that panoramic sea views are mandatory, to the detriment of wildlife habitat, even if it means “topping trees” or simply eliminating them altogether, along with their undergrowth and habitat dependents. Estate agents also tend to support this idea and even make decisions to cut trees down to be able to sell “the view”.

“Is one’s quality of life wholesomely enhanced in this way?” asks Charles.  He surmises that the ‘civilisation syndrome’ part of our human nature which wants to control our surroundings has caused us to clear away the “imposing” reality of wildlife around our homes, the long term effect of which is the destruction of the natural habitat in which we are privileged to live. This is part of what he calls “urbanitis”­‑ putting more value on ‘the view’ than a developed natural environment. In the past, vegetation played a vital role in sheltering homes and living space from “the elements”. Now, because we have modern building technology which withstands these elements, it is possible to do without vegetation.

Charles Reitz with threatened candlewood trees.

Charles Reitz with threatened candlewood trees.

Interestingly, the removal of these candlewoods was not illegal.  Although the National Forests Act has jurisdiction over all natural forests and the components that make up the forest, unless a tree is a protected species it is not individually protected when it stands on a private property. The only nationally protected trees in the Garden Route region are milkwood, black stinkwood, cheesewood and yellowwood trees.

In spite of this, nine forest ecosystems have been identified as threatened in South Africa, three of which have been categorised as endangered, including the Western Cape Milkwood Forest which occurs along the Garden Route. The dense human population of this coastal region has resulted in an ongoing negative impact on these coastal natural forests.

About the candlewood

The candlewood Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus is indigenous to the southern part of South Africa where it occurs naturally from Cape Town all the way along the south coast to KwaZulu-Natal province, and is found in most soil types, from coastal sand to rocky mountain slopes and clay.

In the wild it often grows as a stunted tree, especially in exposed positions, but in favourable conditions it can grow up to 10 m in height. It survives well in coastal conditions, although it can also be found inland.

The masses of sweetly-scented flowers are followed by large numbers of highly distinctive and attractive bright orange lantern-shaped berries. The young leaves are reddish, but mature into a glossy green colour. Another species, Pterocelastrus rostratus, can be found growing in rocky mountain streams such as those in the Cederberg region of the Western Cape.

Charles explains: “In cultivation the candlewood can be pruned to form a proper shade tree. However, it can also be manipulated to grow as a bushy screen if its lower branches are not removed. It forms a great coastal hedge and its ornamental lantern-shaped berries attract many birds – which of course should be a seriously sought after phenomenon for cultured human beings.”

Candlewood tree flowers

Candlewood tree flowers